Official Military Personnel Files (OMPFs) are 20th and 21st U.S. military records for conflicts such as WWI, WWII, and beyond. OMPFs are packed with great genealogy clues, but millions were destroyed by a 1973 fire. Here’s how to find what records still remain, and what you might find if your relative’s OMPF went up in flames.
What are Official Military Personnel Files?
If your ancestor served in the U.S. military during the 20th or 21st century, related service records are called Official Military Personnel Files (OMPFs), or sometimes “201 files,” named after the brown file folder that holds them. These are available for each of the military branches: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard. They are generally held at the National Personnel Record Center in St. Louis, Missouri. (Exceptions for veterans discharged since 1995 may be at other government offices.)
According to the National Archives, Official Military Personnel Files are “primarily an administrative record, containing information about the subject’s service history such as: date and type of enlistment/appointment; duty stations and assignments; training, qualifications, performance; awards and decorations received; disciplinary actions; insurance; emergency data; administrative remarks; date and type of separation/discharge/retirement; and other personnel actions.” The level of detail in complete files make them invaluable genealogical records.
How to Access Official Military Personnel Files
On July 12, 1973, a disastrous fire ravaged the building where the OMPFs were housed. Between 16 and 18 million personnel files were destroyed or damaged; these affected names alphabetically after James E. Hubbard. It was a serious loss for two particular branches of the military:
Army Personnel discharged 1912-1960: 80% Loss (4 in every 5 files).
Air Force Personnel discharged 1947-1964: 75% Loss (3 in every 4 files). (Remember: the Air Force wasn’t officially organized until September 14, 1947. Before this date Air Force records were part of the United States Army Air Corps, then part of the U.S. Army.)
The Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard records were largely unaffected by the fire.
Surviving OMPFs and reconstructed records relating to destroyed files are considered to be archival (or open to researchers without restrictions) 62 years after the date of discharge. This is a rolling date, so discharge dates of 1955 and earlier are open to the public. In 2018, that date will change to 1956, and so on. More recent records are considered non-archival and subject to restrictions; only the veteran or next-of-kin have full access to the files.
You can access Official Military Personnel Files in three ways:
1. Go to St. Louis in person. Appointments are recommended, as research space is limited. Click here for information about requesting an appointment, the availability of records, copy fees, and hours of operation.
2. Employ an independent researcher. Click here for the National Archives’ list of researchers.
3. Request records by mail. Here’s a link to the online portal for requesting these records; here’s a direct link to the PDF format of Standard Form 180, which you can print and mail in.
My grandfather’s OMPF: What survived?
I didn’t fully grasp how many records were lost in the fire in 1973 until I ordered a record of one of my family members. When my grandfather Richard Keller was a small child, he received postcards from his great Uncle Zerbe Howard: I remember him. He died when I was 10 years old. Zerbe served during World War I and was a resident of Lebanon, PA.
I have in my possession the 2 postcards sent my grandfather that listed his name, rank, and military unit. I ordered his file which took several months, and when it arrived I expected it to be full of information. Unfortunately, his file was completely destroyed.
The only reconstructed records located were three pages recording him on a final payment roll with other men from his unit. Here’s an image of that record, which seems so sparse compared to what that original OMPF may have contained:
This final payment roll from Camp Dix, New Jersey is dated from April 1918 to May of 1919. It reveals that the soldiers on this roll were discharged on this date, that they were entitled to travel allowance and foreign service bonus pay of $60 and what their individual payments were. Zerbe even appears to have signed the record in his own scrawling handwriting. While it may be discouraging to have such limited information available due to the 1973 fire, it’s still worth pulling records such as these to track your military ancestors.
The National Personnel Record Center now has other records available to researchers to help fill in some of the gaps. For example, the Army filed Morning Reports, organized by unit. I also found local records in Pennsylvania that were not in the hands of the federal government. Listen to the free Genealogy Gems Podcast or come back to this blog for future tips on researching your 20th-century U.S. relatives’ military service.
Looking for 19th century US military records?
If your ancestor served in the military during the 1800s or earlier, you’ll want to look for his Compiled Military Service Records at the National Archives in Washington, DC. The exact dates for each military branch vary in years accordingly. Click here to learn more about those.
For more ongoing training in tracing your military ancestors, tune in to the free Genealogy Gems Podcastand listen for my segment, “Military Minutes.”
Compiled Military Service Records are core genealogical documents for your ancestors’ military service for the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Indian Wars, Mexican Wars, Civil War, and the Spanish-American War. Expert Michael Strauss tells us what’s in them and how to find them.
What’s in Compiled Military Service Records
Compiled Military Service Records (often abbreviated as CMSR or CSR) are the records that may exist for your ancestors who served in the U.S. military from the Revolutionary War to the end of the Philippine Insurrection and Spanish-American War. This set of records represents the volunteer Army and doesn’t include regular Army enlistments. Except for limited records of the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 for the Navy, the other branches of the military (including Navy, Marines, and Revenue Cutter Service) all have their equivalent set of records.
Information you may find in Compiled Military Service Records varies greatly from each of the war periods. They typically contain:
name, unit, and period of service of the veteran
muster in/out information
rank in/out details
details of the soldier’s career: promotions, prisoner of war memorandums, casualties, and a number of personnel papers which may include enlistment papers and other related documents
for several of the war periods, physical descriptions of the soldiers including name, age, nativity, occupation, height, hair, eyes, and complexion information
John H Lemaster. Photo courtesy of Michael Strauss.
Your ancestor may have multiple entries in Compiled Military Service Records. This could occur if a soldier served in more than one unit, or in the case of John LeMaster, if he enlisted in two different armies during the Civil War! The Civil War divided our nation, testing the loyalty of all persons who lived during this time. Lemaster chose the Confederacy, at least initially, when he enlisted with the 2nd VA Infantry in 1861 in Charlestown, VA. He fought alongside his Brigade commander, Thomas J. Jackson, who later would be known as “Stonewall Jackson.”
After the Confederate loss at the battle of Gettysburg, he deserted and lived in Martinsburg in what was now West Virginia, where on his draft registration he was listed as a deserter from the Rebel Army. In 1864, he enlisted in the United States Army with the 3rd WV Cavalry, serving out the duration of the war until 1865. After the war, he was granted a federal pension, with no mention of his former service in the Confederacy.
Here are his military service records for both the Confederate and Union armies:
Where to Find Compiled Military Service Records
You may access various CMSR indexes and images online. Here are links to collections at subscription websites Fold3, Ancestry.com and even a couple at the free FamilySearch.org:
Compiled Military Service Records at fold3:
Revolutionary War.Compiled Military Service Record images for CT, DE, GA, MD, MA, NH, NJ, NY, NC, PA, RI, SC, VT, VA, and Continental Troops. Genealogists should also search the local state where their ancestors were from as some Militia isn’t included in these records. During the Revolutionary War additional Compiled Service Records were completed for the Navy, which was broken down to include Naval Personnel, Quartermaster General, and Commissary General Departments. One additional set of CMSR images covered Revolutionary War service along with Imprisonment Cards.
Old Wars (1784-1811). After the Revolutionary War, the newly formed United States government sought to maintain a regular Army. However, volunteer soldiers who served from 1784-1811 were recorded. (One of the reasons for volunteers to be called up would have included the Whiskey Rebellion of 1793.) Their Compiled Military Service Record full images are available here.
War of 1812. Compiled Military Service Records Indexes for CT, DE, DC, GA, IL, IN, KY, LA, MD, MA, MI, MS, MO, NH, NJ, NY, NC, OH, PA, RI, SC, TN, VT, VA and also the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Shawanoe Indians along with United States Volunteers. Full copies of CMSR are online for the Chickasaw and Creek Indians, along with the men from buy herpes medication online uk Lake Erie and Mississippi.
Mexican War.Compiled Military Service Record indexes for AL, AR, CA, FL, GA, IL, IN, IA, KY, LA, MD, DC, MA, MI, MS, MO, NJ, NY, NC, OH, PA, SC, TN, TX, VA, WI, and the Mormon Battalion and the United States Volunteers. Full copies of the CMSR are online for AR, MS, PA, TN, TX, and the Mormon Battalion.
Civil War.Click here to search. Union: Indexes for AZ, CA, CO, CT, IL, IN, IA, KS, ME, MA, MI, MN, MO, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, VT, WA, WI, United States Veteran Volunteers, and Veteran Reserve Corps. Full copies of CMSR for AL, AR, CA, CO, Dakota Territory, DE, DC, FL, GA, KY, LA, MD, MA, MS, MO, NE, NV, NM, NC, OR, TN, TX, UT, VT, VA, WV, United States Colored Troops, United States Volunteers, and 1st NY Engineers. Confederate: indexes are online for AL, and VA. Full copies of CMSR are online for AL, AZ, AK, FL, GA, KY, LA, MD, MO, MS, NC, SC, TN, TX, VA, Miscellaneous, Volunteers, Indians, and Officers.
Compiled Military Service Records At Ancestry.com:
Revolutionary War. Full copies of the Compiled Military Service Records for CT, DE, GA, MD, MA, NH, NJ, NY, NC, PA, RI, SC, VT, VA, and Continental Troops. (This database often doesn’t list the local militia, as most of the men listed were part of the continental line. Researchers search by keyword or location.)
Old Wars. An index and full images of the Compiled Military Service Records of those men who served after the Revolutionary War and before the War of 1812, covering the years of 1784-1811.
War of 1812.Abstracted lists of names, state, and military units from the Compiled Service Records (no images).
Free Compiled Military Service Records at FamilySearch.org:
FamilySearch has fewer Compiled Military Service Records that include images. One of the major collections includes the Revolutionary War CMSR’s that when searched here, the images provide a direct link to Fold3.
Most of the other major war periods are microfilmed and available at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. With online access through both Fold3 and Ancestry provided on the computers in the library, though, accessing the film is less desirable. Click here to learn more about changes in microfilm lending at the Family History Library.
Michael Strauss contributes the Military Minutes segment on Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems Podcast. In the recently-published Episode 211, he profiles the 20th-century replacement for Compiled Military Service Records: the Official Military Personnel File. Click here and listen for free!
Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting the free Genealogy Gems podcast and blog!
Throughout time, there have been military veterans all around the world. Military records created during their time of service and subsequent years provide researchers with a wealth of detail. This week in our new and updated genealogical collections, we highlight U.S. military records for the Navy, U.S. Revolutionary War pensioners, New Zealand military veterans, and a variety of Irish military records.
Happy Veteran’s Day! Thank you to all the brave men and women of the United States who have fought in our armed forces. We salute you and remember those who are living today, those who have passed, and those that gave their lives in the service of our country.
Findmypast is offering free access to their entire military collection between November 10-13, 2016. Not only does Findmypast cover US and Canadian military records, but their records also cover the UK, Ireland, and Australian military.
United States – WWII Military Records
Check out the Findmypast.com collection titled Duty Locations, Naval Group China, World War II, 1942-1945. More than 33,000 records contain the details of military personnel who served overseas with the US Naval Group China. This group was the US Navy’s intelligence unit in China during WWII.
The records are mostly muster roll reports that record names, duty locations and changes made to ranks and rates of pay for naval personnel.
United States – Revolutionary War Military Records
Also at Findmypast, the 1840 U.S. Census, Revolutionary War Veterans database containing over 21,000 records of servicemen and their families may help you in your genealogy search. These records include those who were receiving pensions in 1840 for service in the Revolutionary War.
On the back of the population schedules for the 1840 census, enumerators recorded the living pensioners of the Revolutionary War and other military service. The list also noted an individual’s age and the name of the head-of-household in which the individual lived.
Though this is just a transcript, you can go to Ancestry or FamilySearch to see the digital image.
New Zealand – Military Records
New Zealand Wars, officers and men killed 1860-1870 from Findmypast consists of 193 transcripts of nominal returns of colonial officers and men who were killed in action while fighting in the Maori Wars. Each transcript will list your ancestor’s date of death, rank and corps.
New Zealand, military pensions 1900-1902, also from Findmypast, is a collection of records detailing those eligible for military pensions. This collection is only in transcription form, but may shed further light on your ancestors next of kin. In particular, these records often include your name, rank, service number, name and address of their next of kin, and relationship.
Ireland – Military Records
The Ireland, Royal Hibernian Military School History from Findmypast is a 168 page document regarding the history of the Royal Hibernian Military School in Dublin. This collection includes transcriptions from memorial inscriptions, a roll of honor from the First World War, and transcripts from both the 1901 and 1911 census.
The Royal Hibernian Military School was founded in 1765 in Phoenix Park, Dublin. Today, it is the site of St Mary’s Hospital. When the school closed in 1924, all the registers and minute books were taken to Walworth, London. During the World War II, these documents were destroyed in the Blitz. The Ireland, Royal Hibernian Military school history provides a valuable substitute for the records that were lost.
Ireland Military Records is the title collection from Findmypast that contains 8 different military publications and over 2,700 records. Among the records, you will find memorial inscriptions and army lists from the 17th and 19th centuries.
Each record is displayed as a PDF. The detail found in each record will vary depending on the publication and the subject.
Each week, we scour the web to bring you the best in what’s new for your genealogical research. Be sure to sign-up for our free Genealogy Gems newsletter so you don’t miss it. While you are at it, how about sharing the good news with your genealogy buddies, after all…it’s nice to share!
For those newbies who are looking for how to begin their own genealogy journey or for the genealogist that needs a little brushing up, take a look at the free Family History: Genealogy Made Easy series. Lisa Louise Cooke offers articles, podcasts, and videos to get you started on the right foot and achieve genealogy success!
Here’s our weekly list of new genealogy records online. It’s PACKED with European military records from WWII back to the War of 1812. Do any collections below relate to your family history? Please share with your genealogy buddies or with societies that might be interested!
BRITISH POWs IN JAPAN. Over 56,000 records pertaining to the 37,583 British and Commonwealth soldiers released from Japanese captivity in 1945 are now available on Forces War Records. ‘This collection…lists the soldiers, along with the occasional civilian, who endured these conditions. Prisoners were only obliged to provide their name, rank and number so the amount of military information is limited, however the records do include the date of capture, the camp in which they were held and the date of liberation, be that through release, escape or death.”
BRITISH JEWS IN WWI. Findmypast’s new British Jewry Book of Honour 1914-1920 “contains nearly 57,000 color images and transcripts of [an original] two-volume book published in 1922 to record and honor” contributions of more than 50,000 Jews to the British and colonial forces during World War I. “It describes Jewish enlistment, casualties, military honors, Jewish units and the work of Jewish hospitals and other Jewish institutions and agencies. Importantly, it contains alphabetical lists of those killed in action, those who were awarded military honors and the nominal rolls of Jews who served, listed by service and by regiment.”
BRITISH WAR OF 1812. The British Army Casualty Index War of 1812 now at Findmypast “contains the details of over 12,000 soldiers in the British Army who died, deserted, or were imprisoned during the War of 1812 (or the Anglo American War)….Each record consists of a transcript of the original source material that will reveal the soldiers name, birth place, former occupation, rank, regiment or unit, place or action, company officer, company number, removal date and manner of removal – this may include information on how a soldier died or whether he deserted or was a prisoner of war.”
SCOTTISH CHURCH RECORDS. A new Findmypast collection,Scottish Covenanters 1679-1688 contains over 81,000 records of The Covenanters, a “Scottish Presbyterian movement that played an important part in the history of Scotland, England and Ireland, during the 17th century….The records list the individuals who signed the Covenant…[and] a transcript created using sources held by The National Archives and the National Library of Scotland…[with] the Covenanter’s name, county, a description (often their occupation or relatives) and place.”
WWII in EUROPE. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission has launched a new online database of British, Irish, and Commonwealth WWII casualties. It will now be possible for the first time “to see the original records of all 1.7 million individuals the Commission commemorates.” According to a press release, “The digitized records cover British, Irish and Commonwealth casualties from the Second World War, together with records for most other nationals commemorated at CWGC sites: this includes the records for German soldiers.”
We love seeing all these new genealogy records online every week! The trick is to get the word out about them. Will you help us by sharing this post with others?
This is a great opportunity to reach in and grab those WWII military records you may not have had subscription access to! Both my grandfathers served in World War, and so did one of my husband’s grandfathers, John Morton (pictured here).
According to a Fold3 blog post, “The WWII Collection, currently with over 72 million records, has a diverse array of resources to mine, whether you’re interested in historical aspects of the war or are searching for specific individuals who fought in it.” Popular databases in this collection include: